Jesus Movement?

December 11th, 2017

Last week, Incarnation had the great honor of hosting the 100th Anniversary Celebration of the Church Pension Fund. Officiating at the Eucharist and preaching was none other than the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, the Most Rev. Michael Curry.

This was clearly a great honor–there are over 10,000 individual Episcopal Churches, so clearly most parishes never see a Presiding Bishop.

Bishop Curry spoke as he often does of our Church as “the Episcopal Branch of the Jesus Movement.” I certainly couldn’t disagree with this description of our church. But I wonder if it sounds a bit too evangelical?

God knows, we need evangelism; our membership continues to decline. But we want to be sure to draw a contrast between our branch of Christianity and fundamentalist Evangelicals. Still, if we let them claim exclusive rights to be followers of Jesus, we’ve certainly lost something!

And at any rate, the word, “movement” is apt. Our church sometimes seems to be so bound up with tradition that we can’t change or “move.” And everyone, young and old, is happy to be part of a movement that is going forward, growing and contributing to the joy of the world. —J. Douglas Ousley

Is Advent An Anachronism?

December 5th, 2017

As the church season of Advent begins, many clergy sermons bemoan the difficulties inherent in trying to observe a solemn and holy Advent while we are immersed in the Christmas rush.

Even more of a problem is that people are more likely to be thinking of peace and joy instead of the Last Things traditionally discussed in Advent: Death, Judgment, Heaven, and Hell. Advent hymns on these themes just don’t compete with Christmas carols!

Yet the themes are not irrelevant to the world of today, where rogue nations and unpredictable leaders threaten massive conflict–where, as in Hawaii, nuclear warning systems are now in place and regularly tested.

All the more reason to worry less about how busy we are–and to think seriously about the serious questions of this and every season: Where are we going? What do we value? How will we be judged? —J. Douglas Ousley

“False Witnesses?”

November 27th, 2017

No one reputable questions the vast majority of claims of sexual abuse that have filled the media in these past weeks. Too many witnesses, too vivid descriptions to be made up. Plus most of those accused have admitted having made “mistakes” and apologized in one way or another (though mostly not to the satisfaction of the victims.)

But what happens further down this road, when people come forward who were not actually harmed but who want to cash in on the notoriety of the predators? This has happened before with those who falsely claimed to suffer from satanic cults, and it will inevitably happen in this case. Too much money to be gained. Too many lawyers who will take any case.

So, going forward, the evidence will need to be sifted even more stringently, and justice will need to be served. Otherwise, the gains recently made against powerful abusers will evaporate. —J. Douglas Ousley

Harassed and Helpless…

November 21st, 2017

“When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”

This text contains the best-known use of the word, “harassed” in the Bible. While the context (Jesus regarding his clueless disciples) is quite different from the current use of the word to refer to sexual abuse, the link of the word with “helpless” reminds us of the real underlying problem: those who are abused feel “helpless” in the sense that they feel alone and without power to resist the advances of the abusers.

I’ve never been in such a situation but I can imagine something of the feeling a person has who is being harassed. That Christians condemn such behavior unequivocally should go without saying. So also should we Christians feel the deepest shame when prominent Christians abuse. —J. Douglas Ousley

Where the Treasure Isn’t

November 14th, 2017

Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”

This saying came to mind as I was attending the Annual Convention of the Diocese of New York last weekend. An underlying theme of the Convention was certainly treasure.

Or, rather, the lack of it. 33 of 200 parishes are unable to pay their full assessment (tax) to the diocese, so the diocese will have to dip into its endowment to balance its budget this year and next. Though the diocesan bureaucracy has not (yet) been cut back, many of its outreach programs are seeing reductions in their budgets.

Happily, Incarnation is blessed with a growing endowment, and results of the pledge drive for 2018 are encouraging. But we also will need to watch our pennies in the future. We’ll need more fund-raising efforts, more supporting members–more work, more commitment. And through it all, we will need to remember that the goal of all our efforts is to love and serve God and our neighbors.

Ultimately, that’s where our hearts should be. —J. Douglas Ousley

The Banality of Evil

November 7th, 2017

When I was doing graduate work in philosophy, I was fortunate to take some courses with Hannah Arendt. Prof. Arendt became known for, among other things, her phrase, “the banality of evil.” She was referring to the phenomenon during the Holocaust where terrible events like the death camps and tyranny were so common that evil became banal–ordinary.

It’s hard not to think similar thoughts these days, following many mass shootings and terrorist acts at home and abroad.

Our Men’s Group last night looked at the presence of evil and how its existence might be reconciled with the Christian belief in a loving and omnipotent God. The key component of any defense of the Christian position is the necessity of human freedom in order to fulfill the purposes of God. We can’t grow in love and service to others unless we have the option of being unloving. And a world in which accidents never occurred would similarly preclude human freedom. Justice further requires life after death so that wrongs in this life can be made right.

Nevertheless, we agreed that many mysteries surrounding the phenomenon of evil remain. In the words of the Psalmist: “Out of the depths we cry out unto thee. O Lord, hear our prayer.” —J. Douglas Ousley

Conspiracy Theories

October 30th, 2017

As political conspiracy theories fly about in the political sphere, it’s interesting to note that such theories have not fared well in the realm of Bible studies.

One theory that goes back to early times and is revived every few years is the notion that the disciples stole the body of Jesus, buried it secretly, and then pretended that they saw him alive. Another theory had him surviving the crucifixion and then pretending he was resurrected.

There are massive amounts of evidence why such conspiracies are unlikely. For example, if Jesus never died, what happened to him after Easter? Wouldn’t he have lived a normal life on earth–instead of “ascending” into Heaven, as the Bible teaches? And if the disciples had hidden his body, their deception would surely have been discovered by local authorities who were anxious to prove that Jesus was not the Messiah risen from the dead.

Another fanciful theory, for which there isn’t a shred of contemporary evidence, is that Jesus was secretly married to Mary Magdalene.

There’s nothing like a secret plot to spur the human imagination. Happily, for Christians, the evidence is strong that Christ was who he said he was. —J. Douglas Ousley


Good Heavens

October 25th, 2017

Like many of you, I avidly read the newspaper accounts of new astronomical discoveries. I was particularly pleased recently by the news that two neutron stars had been observed as they collided. The results in astrophysical terms were as predicted, and scientists couldn’t have been more pleased.

I can’t begin to explain exactly what all this means. Dark matter and black holes are mysteries to me–layperson terms for almost inconceivably complex mathematical equations.

Yet as a person who believes in a Creator God, I find these discoveries deeply satisfying. I know that the universe could just “happen” to exist. I just can’t believe that this all occurred by chance. “The heavens declare the glory of God…” —J. Douglas Ousley

Middling Way

October 16th, 2017

For centuries, the Anglican Church has been proud to see itself as the via media–the “middle way” between the Roman Catholic Church on the one hand and the Protestant churches on the other hand.

We have hoped that are unique traditional structure and our freedom of thought might even combine the best of both worlds. In any case, we want to be a meeting ground where other Christians could gather.

And it is true that we are probably the most diverse church body in Christendom. For example, we have within our communion conservative and liberal Evangelicals, conservative and liberal Anglo-Catholics, and extremely liberal and traditionalist Broad Church Christians.

Unfortunately, these factions seem far apart–though maybe less so than five years ago (the current Archbishop of Canterbury seems to have lowered the temperature of the conflicts.) Nevertheless, at this moment we are all still together. At this moment, we still represent a middle way. —J. Douglas Ousley

Carrying On

October 10th, 2017

Now being discussed is a federal law that would essentially make it legal to carry weapons in every state. Someone with an “open” or “concealed carry” permit valid in one state would be able to bear his weapon in every other state.

The value of this proposed law is not entirely clear to me. Even if the 22,000 concertgoers in Las Vegas had been armed, it’s not clear how effective they would have been in shooting back at the sniper on the 32nd floor. Even an armed security guard at his door apparently couldn’t stop the man. Moreover, carrying weapons increases the chances of suicide and escalating quarrels.

I recognize that the Second Amendment is not about to be repealed. I know clergy who own weapons for hunting and I have friends who have pistols for personal protection in their homes.

But carry permits–open or concealed–are surely superfluous for the vast majority of Americans. —J. Douglas Ousley